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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 10 March 2017

posted by eucentresg


Towards a Multi-speed Europe?

Following release of the European Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe, the Big Four (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) of the EU27 met in the Palace of Versailles on 6th of March and announced their support of the vision of a multi-speed Europe. Angela Merkel argued that there is a need to allow those countries who have the courage to “forge ahead with integration despite opposition from others” to go ahead, or the whole EU project would be at risk. The Big Four’s vision has some support as a similar Benelux paper has been circulated at the Malta summit in early February. The centre-right European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament also threw its weight behind the idea of a multi-speed Europe.

However, concerns have been raised by some EU leaders, in particular Donald Tusk, who felt that multi-speed Europe should not be an objective, but a warning on the future of Europe. The Visegrad group (comprising Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) also voiced their opposition against a two-speed Europe. EurActiv reported that the idea of a two-speed Europe highlighted divisions between the eastern and western bloc of the EU. With the different voices, it is clear that the future of the EU is far from settled. (To read more on the different scenarios of the future of the EU, please click HERE for our commentary.)

The White Paper also caught China Daily’s attention. Its European Bureau deputy chief opined that when reflecting on the Union’s future, the EU has to ask itself “Does it want to create better living conditions for young Europeans, whose interests in the EU are fading? Does it want to channel more resources and military capability into the defense sector to safeguard the union’s borders? And, does it want to bring the single market closer?” While probably the answers are “yes” to each question, the author argued that the challenges facing the EU should be tackled with “swift action, courage, determination and effective leadership” instead of “lengthy debates [that] could erode confidence and trust”.


Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation in the EU

EU foreign affairs and defence ministers met on Monday (6 March) and agreed to establish a military planning office in Brussels that can oversee the planning and conduct of military actions undertaken by the EU as part of its Common Defence and Security Policy (CSDP). This is a small but important step taken towards strengthened defence cooperation. The meeting also reviewed the progress in implementing the EU Global Strategy in the area of security and defence.

To be called the Military Planning and Conduct Capabilities (MPCC) Unit, it would begin with planning the training missions in Somalia, Mali and Central African Republic. It will work under the political control and strategic guidance of the Political and Security Committee (PSC), which is composed of EU member states’ ambassadors based in Brussels. The MPCC will work closely with its existing civilian counterpart, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) through a joint support coordination cell.

The meeting also discussed the strengthening of Europe’s security and defence and for the EU to take more responsibility for protecting its own citizens by utiliising a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that allows for Permanent Structures Cooperation (PESCO). For EU countries that want to do more in the military and defence sphere, PESCO allows them to push ahead without waiting for full consensus. This is akin to subscribing to the idea of a multi-speed Europe.


EU hardens its stance on asylum seekers

The EU has recently hardened its stance on asylum seekers. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday (7 March) that EU member states are not required under EU law to grant a humanitarian visa to people who want to enter their territory in order to then apply for asylum. The ECJ made the decision in a case related to a Syrian family trying to come to Belgium last October.

The European Commission in a statement released last week said people who have been told they will be returned to their home country and “show signs they will not comply, such as refusal to cooperate in the identification process or opposing a return operation violently or fraudulently” should be detained to “prevent absconding”. The Commission insisted that the new measures is not a call for blanket detention, but a way to make full use of European legislation which allows irregular migrants to be detained for up to 18 months.

One of the EU countries, Hungary, goes much further. Its parliament passed a bill on Tuesday (7 Mar) to detain all asylum seekers in converted shipping containers. The new law means that anyone, regardless of their asylum status, would be locked up no matter where they were found in Hungary. This legislation quickly drew international condemnation. For example, the United Nations Refugee Agency said the legislation “violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered”.

Apart from systematically detaining refugees, Hungary also refuses to take part in the compulsory Refugee Allocation Plan. The current EU rules provide that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first EU member state they reach. Consequently, some 160,000 migrants are currently stranded in Greece and Italy, the most common entry points to the EU. Last year, the Commission drew up plans to relocate some of those migrants to other member states. But just 13,546 people had been relocated. Hungary, Austria and Poland are refusing to participate in the scheme at all and some others such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have done so on a very limited basis.

The EU confirmed its commitment to refugee allocation schemes this week as Cecilia Wikström, from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, presented her report on the reform of the Dublin Regulation, which clarifies which EU country is responsible for processing asylum seekers, on 9 March. Wikström made it clear that asylum seekers arriving in the EU should be assigned a destination country rather than let to have free choice. Her report also revealed some of the problems in the relocation plan with just 13,456 being reallocated, and thousands missing.


EU business group criticises Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) on Tuesday (7 Mar) published a report criticising China’s “Made in China 2025” plan. The policy initiatives, introduced two years ago, are part of China’s comprehensive strategy to upgrade its manufacturing industries and technological base. The plan was drafted by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) over two and a half years, with input from 150 experts from the China Academy of Engineering.

The EUCCC report entitled “China Manufacturing 2025: Putting Industrial Policy Ahead of Market Forces” said the plan amounts to a “large-scale import substitution plan aimed at nationalising key industries” because it calls for an increase in domestically made products in 10 sectors, ranging from robotics to biopharmaceuticals. (The plan identifies the goal of raising domestic content of core components and materials to 40% by 2020 and 70% by 2025.) The report also warned the plan could cause tensions between China and its global trading partners, as it involves instruments pertaining to subsidies, support for state-owned enterprises, limiting market access for foreign businesses and state-backed acquisitions of companies from overseas markets.

Responding to the criticism, Tian Yun, director of the China Society of Macroeconomics Research Centre, told Global Times that “Every country that treats manufacturing as their lifeline will naturally seek to improve and climb higher up the industrial chain, which offers more value.” He added that competition is hard to avoid and this may rattle some European firms.

Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, also said that China is trying to transform itself from a big trading nation to a strong trading nation. Nevertheless, Bai clarified that “Made in China 2025” differs from previous schemes which aimed at “giving direct support to certain industries” as it focuses on creating an enabling environment for the industries.

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